Saturday, May 31, 2014

We Need Hobbits not Superheroes

Easter 7A
1 June 2014

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Focus text:  John 17.1-11

Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. Eucharist on Sunday, 1 June 2014.

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.  So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.  They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.  And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."

Every once and a while a question will pop into my mind that has no clear connection to anything that I am doing or thinking.  Just recently I found myself asking the question, 'Why do we have so many superhero movies these days?'  I decided to go to the source of all knowledge, Google, and typed in my question.  Would you believe it?  My question was the question of lots of people.

Most of the answers given to the question focused on the facts that superhero movies, especially those based on comic book characters, are easy to make and generate lots of ticket revenue.  Other observers waxed eloquently on the lack of imagination in Hollywood and the ease of avoiding the hard work of creating a compelling story by using old story-lines and special effects.

But I found some interesting comments posted at '' that looked more closely at 'why' superhero movies appeal to us.

1)  Superhero movies allow us to escape, if even for only a couple of hours, from the challenges of our daily lives.

2)  In times of conflict, especially armed conflicts, superheroes serve our patriotic instincts.  Superheroes fight for justice and peace.  They rally the 'home front' by giving us the sense that good will triumph over evil.  But often superheroes struggle to live a normal life even as they confront the evils of their times.  It's this struggle that allows us to relate to them as human beings.

3)  Superheroes offer hope in dismal times.  They are often symbols of peace, safety and freedom.

I can understand all these impulses.  I was born at the end of the Korean War and lived through the heights of the Cold War.  I belong to the last group of Americans who could have been drafted in their nineteenth year into the armed forces of the United States during the Vietnam War.  I watched 'Superman' on television during the fifties.  Not only might I want a superhero, I would love to be one.

It is tempting to view Jesus as a superhero.  After all, he's the Son of God, not an ordinary person like you or me.  He walks on water, heals the sick and casts out demons.  When everyone thinks that he is dead, he is raised from the tomb and astonishes his followers and frightens the authorities.  Forty days after Jesus' resurrection, the writer of the gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles tells us that Jesus ascends bodily into heaven, becoming our spokesperson at the side of God.  We sing hymns the celebrate his coming at the end of time to rectify all the wrongs, raise the dead and bring us into glory.  It's a powerful story and it has inspired and strengthened Christians for almost two thousand years.

But the real story is not about a superhero, whether divine or otherwise.  The real story is about a people, at first a group of Jews living in a troubled area of the Roman Empire in the first century of our era, later a movement that now numbers billions of people on every continent.  The real story is that God is not depending upon a superhero to bring about God's purposes for us and for the whole of creation.  God is depending upon this people, as diverse as we are, as divided as we can be, as imperfect as we are, to do justice, to love steadfastly and to walk humbly.

This people have the knowledge that Jesus speaks of in today's gospel.  We know that love, when shared with many, is not diminished.  We know that every human being, made in the image of God, has dignity to be protected and nurtured.  We know that we live in a world crafted by the hands of God which we must tend not pillage.  We know that death, our ancient foe, is not God's last word.

These are but a few things that we already know and there is more that God is revealing in every generation.  We do not need another superhero; we need to be the people we have become through our communion with God in Jesus and the Spirit.  We need to be ourselves as God sees us and gives us the means to be rather than the people the powers of darkness want us to think we are, weak, gullible, passive, easily manipulated.

What do we need to be ourselves?  On this Sunday between the celebration of the ascension and the celebration of the coming of the Spirit I am going to refrain from answering this question today.  I will try to do so next week.  But in the meantime I will say that we need courage and we need wisdom.  More next week.

In this season of superhero movies I do want to mention two series of films that have appeared over the last few years.  Ever since my days in Grade 7 I re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings every two years or so.  Many of us have seen the trilogy of films based on The Lord of the Rings and two of three projected films based on The Hobbit have already appeared.  In an epic filled with wizards, elves, magical beings, both good and evil, strange creatures, one might think that it is part of the superhero genre.  But it is not.  The real heroes in J. R. R. Tolkien's tales of Middle Earth are the hobbits, simple folks who love gardens, tall tales, tobacco and good food.  They accomplish what all the 'great' folk of the world cannot:  the defeat of the evil power that threatens Middle Earth and all its creatures.

I have no illusions about the difficulties human beings face in this world, difficulties more often than not generated by our own acts of injustice, our own failures to love steadfastly and our own arrogance.  I have no vision of healing all the world in a generation.  I know that you and I are called to achieve God's purposes here in Metro Vancouver, perhaps British Columbia, even Canada.  If others tend their 'gardens', then the cumulative effect will be more than we can ask or imagine.

I enjoy superhero movies, but I don't need a superhero.  I just need ordinary people of faith to be and to become who God intends them to be by following the way, the truth and the life God reveals in Jesus of Nazareth.  That will be enough.  Amen.

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